What the Hell Happened to Neve Campbell?
Neve Campbell had the lead role on a hit TV show which lead to a leading role in a hit movie franchise. Scream revitalized the horror genre in 1996. Campbell continued to star on Party of Five while making Scream sequels. In between, she tried to make something happen outside of teen soaps and horror movies. While Campbell continued working, she fell off the public’s radar.
What the hell happened?
Campbell was born in Canada. At the age of six, she saw a performance of The Nutcracker and decided she wanted to be a ballerina. At the age of nine, Campbell moved into residence at the National Ballet School of Canada where she appeared in performances of The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty. At the age of fifteen, Campbell had to leave ballet due to several injuries. Instead, she turned to acting. In 1991, at the age of eighteen, Campbell appeared in a Coca-Cola commercial featuring Bryan Adams.
That commercial is practically an audition for horror movies. And Adams is far scarier than Ghostface ever was.
Campbell also appeared in guest appearances on several Canadian TV shows. In 1991, she appeared opposite Jerry O’Connell on the super hero-themed kids show, My Secret Identity.
In 1992, Campbell appeared on the sketch comedy show, The Kids in the Hall.
She also had a recurring role in the TV show, Catwalk, in which she played a keyboardist in a Canadian rock band.
In 1993, Campbell guest starred on Are You Afraid of the Dark, a joint American-Canadian anthology show. The horror/fantasy show was aimed at kids and aired on Nickelodeon in the US.
In 1994, Campbell appeared in several TV movies and guest appearances including Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. (Campbell appears as a tennis player at the 6-minute mark in the clip above). She also appeared in the TV movies I Know My Son Is Alive and The Forget-Me-Not Murders which have to be airing on Lifetime Movie Network.
1994 was also the year Party of Five debuted. Campbell starred opposite Scott Wolf, Matthew Fox and Lacey Chabert as siblings who are orphaned when their parents are killed by a drunk driver. The show was not initially a hit. In fact, Fox considered cancelling it after the first season.
In 1995, Party of Five won the Golden Globe for Best Drama beating out shows like E/R and NYPD Blue. It was a shocking upset that brought attention to the fledgling drama. The win brought more viewers and better ratings. Party of Five ended its run after six seasons in 2000.
In 1996, Campbell appeared in a horror movie that would turn out to be a surprise hit. The movie starred several young actors who could potentially go on to be big stars. But it wasn’t Scream. It was the witch-themed movie, The Craft.
The Craft is basically Mean Girls as a horror movie or Heathers minus the dark comedy. Robin Tunney starred as a troubled teen who falls in with the wrong crowd. Fairuza Balk played the mean girl who pushes the group into darker and darker territory. Campbell played a follower in the group.
Skeet Ulrich, who would appear opposite Campbell in Scream, had a supporting role.
Portraying a high school clique as a witch’s coven may be a bit too on-the-nose for some. The movie lacks subtlety, but it did a good job of combining teen drama with the horror genre. Reviews were mixed, but The Craft opened at number one at the box office. It was a surprise hit that developed a small but devoted cult following.
Later that year, Campbell starred opposite Courteney Cox and David Arquette in Wes Craven’s Scream.
Scream was originally titled Scary Movie. Writer Kevin Williamson wrote the script and two five-page outlines for potential sequels over the course of three days. Williamson said Scary Movie was a movie he wanted to watch. But Hollywood wasn’t making that kind of scary movie in the 90′s. The slasher genre had peaked in the previous decade and Williamson hoped to revive it.
Director Wes Craven was originally interested in taking on the project. But before he could get a studio to buy the script for him, it was sold to Dimension Films. Bob Weinstein of Dimension approached Craven to direct, but by then the director was committed to a remake of The Haunting. Craven decided to distance himself from the horror genre following The Haunting and passed on Scary Movie.
The script made its way into the hands of Drew Barrymore. Barrymore was interested in starring in the film. This was almost unheard of at the time. Barrymore was an established movie star and established movie stars did not make horror movies. Horror movies were a stepping stone for unknown actors and actresses to become established movie stars. When Barrymore expressed interest, that was enough to change Craven’s mind about directing.
Barrymore had intended to play the lead role. But other commitments prevented her from doing so. Instead, she played a smaller role – almost an extended cameo. Her character was killed off in the film’s opening scenes. It was a gamble to kill off the movie’s biggest star at the beginning of the movie. But the gamble paid off. The opening death scene became a hallmark of the series.
With no lead actress in place, the studio turned to several up-and-coming actresses. Craven had seen Campbell on Party of Five and asked her to audition. Having just appeared in The Craft, Campbell was reluctant to star in another horror movie. But ultimately, she decided the part was too good to pass up.
During filming, Craven was nearly fired as director. Weinstein did not think the Ghostface mask was scary and wanted to take the movie in another direction. Craven had to put together a work print of the film’s opening 13 minutes in order to save his job.
Craven spent two months editing the film. The MPAA asked for several changes based on the film’s intensity. Craven fought to keep that intensity, but the studio would not release an NC-17 cut of the movie. Craven explained:
“I’m a director who can do something very well but am not allowed to put it on screen. And they ultimately get you, as they did on this one, on intensity. They say, ‘it’s not a specific shot, it’s not blood, it’s just too intense’.”
Ultimately, Bob Weinstein intervened and Scream was released with an R-rating.
Scream received mostly positive reviews. Ultimately, it was a hit at the box office. But it didn’t exactly start out that way. Weinstein insisted on releasing Scream during the Christmas movie season. He argued that since horror movies were never released during this season, that the target audience wouldn’t have any other alternatives.
In its opening weekend, Scream grossed roughly $6 million dollars which was considered a disappointment. Traditionally horror movies dropped about 50% in their second weekend. That would put Scream on a path to failure. But Scream didn’t drop 50%. Instead, it became a word-of-mouth hit. For the next few weeks, Scream‘s box office take increased ultimately grossing over $100 million dollars in the US.
Next: Scream 2 and Wild Things